Japanese politics: the spirit of 2012?
By Tobias Harris -- Oct 28
The debate in Japan's House of Representatives over raising the consumption tax resulted in a new rift in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) when Ichiro Ozawa took more than 49 followers out of the party in July and formed the new People's Life First party. The rift was followed by the rise of the Japan Restoration Association led by Osaka's mayor, Toru Hashimoto, and the consolidation of the neoliberal Your Party as challengers to Japan's two major parties, suggesting that Japanese politics may be on the brink of a new party realignment.
Observers should not place too much significance on changes to the parties - over the past 20 years Japanese parties have formed, splintered, dissolved and merged frequently. Japan, however, may be in the midst of a wider-reaching political transformation that extends beyond the party system.
In 2012 Tokyo has seen the biggest demonstrations in Japan in more than 50 years, as tens of thousands of protesters have repeatedly converged on the prime minister's residence to protest against Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's decision to restart the nuclear reactors that were shut down after the 3/11 disaster. The anti-nuclear protests come on the heels of smaller-scale protests in late 2011 and early 2012 against the Noda cabinet's intention to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks. These protests, together with reports of growing participation in political 'training' academies sponsored by reformist politicians, including Hashimoto, suggest that a public long dissatisfied with its political leaders is increasingly inclined to take politics into its own hands. Whether out of disappointment of the DPJ's performance or dismay at the persistence of structural corruption in the Japanese state, public distrust may have reached a tipping point.
Although the Tokyo protests inspired comparisons to the Arab Spring and Hashimoto's rise to the Meiji Restoration, it is too early to tell where the tumult will lead. Typical of a mature democracy, Japan's political, electoral and administrative institutions serve as considerable barriers to political outsiders seeking entry.
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